Digital wireless temperature probes take a lot of the hassle out of recording data and there are a wealth of options for operators looking for an easy-to-use option. Angela Frewin reports
Caterers need to be able to prove their food is kept within strict temperature parameters to control or kill off pathogenic microbes, especially in high-risk items such as poultry. The price of failing to maintain a stringent food safety system based on HACCP (hazard analysis, critical control points) can be severe. A shredded reputation, costly litigation and even shut-down could follow an outbreak of food-borne illness among customers.
And it's not just regulators scrutinising caterers' hygiene standards. The Food Standards Agency's public attitude tracker survey reports that 43% of consumers are concerned about food safety in restaurants, pubs, cafés and takeaways, with 84% judging premises on the basis of hygiene stickers/certificates and general appearance. Research by real-time operation management specialist Checkit has found that 75% of consumers would shun a food outlet implicated in a poisoning or hygiene incident while it remained under the same management.
tunately, modern technology is providing safer, swifter solutions, with many added benefits. John Whitehouse, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), says: "Meeting HACCP requirements is essential, but it's no simple task. However, modern technology is making that task easier, helping operators not only to keep HACCP logs, but also to store, prepare and cook food more safely, and to keep appliances running efficiently.
"Gone are the endless, time-consuming and prone-to-error HACCP paper trails of yesterday. Digital wireless systems will automatically monitor temperatures in appliances such as fridges and freezers, sending the data to a device and storing it till required. They will produce reports at the touch of a button. The HACCP data is absolutely reliable and there's no risk of staff error - or of anyone trying to manipulate the figures."
HACCP logging is sometimes built into appliances such as combi-ovens and refrigerators. The other option is standalone or retro-fitted equipment, which feeds data wirelessly to a central system that can be accessed remotely - a real boon for multiple-site operators.
ark - a manufacturer of precision thermometers, pressure and humidity meters, data loggers and wireless monitoring solutions - says that its customers welcomed the ease of recording and storing food temperatures in the cloud when it launched its BT125 Bluetooth Pocketherm thermometer with fold-out probe last year. It has now extended the digital solution to an upgrade of its best-selling C22 Thermometer.
Comark's new BT42 Bluetooth thermometer offers a choice of five interchangeable temperature probes, a temperature range from -200Â°C to +400Â°C, and antimicrobial coatings to both case and probes. It works with the Comark Kitchen Checks app to store HACCP and food safety data that can be accessed from anywhere on a device.
Ben Gardner, chief executive officer of safety equipment supplier Navitas Group, says: "Our own industry research suggests that kitchen staff spend around two hours a day taking and recording appliance temperatures manually. That's the equivalent of 60 hours a month and more than 720 hours every year. What's more, the cost of stock spoilage - whether due to human error or appliance failure - can be huge. An average under-counter appliance can hold around £100 of stock, whereas a walk-in appliance can hold more than £4,000 of stock."
n integrated system need not cost a fortune. Testo's Saveris 2 WiFi data loggers offer a fully automated, paperless temperature monitoring system starting from £109. Saveris 2 pairs temperature (and optional humidity) wireless data loggers with probes to save an estimated one hour of staff time per day manually checking fridges, freezers and storage areas. Door contacts can also be linked to loggers that trigger alarms if they remain open too long.
MonikaPrime is a cloud-based food safety system pairing a Bluetooth smart probe with sensors on refrigeration and other equipment that simulate the temperature of the product. "This is a more reliable method than checking the air temperature within a unit - for example, by reading the digital display," according to a company spokesperson. "And because temperatures are recorded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can identify failing equipment, allowing stock to be saved, and avoid the risk of a unit moving out of range then back into safe range when unattended."
MonikaPrime's alarm escalation system alerts management to unresolved issues, and optional sensors warn of open doors or switched-off units. The probe sends records of temperatures, time and user for specific products to hand-held Android devices that can also be used to prompt other food safety tasks, register deliveries or set up allergens and log occurrences, for instance.
The 'scan a barcode and move on' approach of TME's MM7000-2D combined temperature monitoring system is easy for inexperienced staff to use, and a fully integrated system (comprising a network of radio transmitters and fixed sensors plus handheld barcode-scanning Bluetooth thermometers with interchangeable probes) can cost as little as £450 per site.
The MM7000-2D's probes deliver instant records of the temperature, time, date, location and unique identity of what has been measured, from appliances and food deliveries to individual plated meals. Barcodes can be programmed to send alarms via Bluetooth or radio signal, both on- and off-site, via on-screen prompts, audio-visual alarms, text and email.
For hot-hold units, Checkit is currently introducing automated monitoring that is sealed, self-contained and wireless.
Technology that de-risks and automates error-prone routine processes boosts job satisfaction, giving businesses an edge in the fierce competition for skilled staff, says Checkit's product and marketing director David Davies. "Caterers who are seen to invest in equipping workers with the right tools for them to get their core job role done more effectively will be more attractive to staff," he explains.
"Automated temperature monitoring is a leading indicator of a wider culture that will reduce repetitive, routine tasks, and frees up staff to focus on food preparation and creation."
Case study: Cycas Hospitality
as Hospitality operates 14 hotels (three in European cities) under different flags and chose the Navitas Digital Food Safety System to simplify and exceed the differing brand and country health and safety requirements.
The system - trialled at the Residence Inn by Marriott London Kensington last summer - pairs Smartprobe thermometers with temperature-monitoring pods and a wireless hub linking the hotel's fridges and freezers. Results feed into an easily accessed online platform (a live dashboard shows team engagement, cleaning checklists and outstanding activities), and alerts about any problems are emailed to key Cycas and hotel personnel.
The pilot increased daily readings from two-per-day to two-per-hour, while saving staff around 7,500 hours per year. Weekly savings break down to four-and-a-half hours checking food temperatures, nearly an hour checking fridge temperatures and more than half an hour updating cleaning schedules.
"Based on staff time savings, this one hotel has already saved £4,500 a year in exchange for a more compliant system with, most importantly, no reports of food-related illnesses since May 2018," says Ben Gardner at Navitas.
In addition, Residence Inn was rated a five-star establishment in unannounced environmental health spot-checks and passed each quarter's food safety and brand standards audits, saving the hotel a potential £2,000 in re-auditing costs.
Case study: Center Parcs
Scalability, flexible parameters and future applications were key considerations behind Center Parcs' choice of Checkit's Real-Time Operations Management solution to streamline food safety compliance and temperature monitoring across its five holiday villages.
With each village averaging 12 restaurants and bars, 125 fridges and freezers and 2,500 weekly temperature checks, the system involved fitting 800 sensors (pictured) across the estate (including a just-opened sixth site in Ireland).
"Each unit has saved an hour's labour each day," says food, beverage and retail manager Gavin Riley. "That might not sound much, but when you talk about the UK business operation, it represents more than 20,000 hours per year."
Checkit's operational insight dashboards gives managers unprecedented control and visibility of trends and performance across the business, allowing key performance indicators (such as the length of time equipment operates within specification) to be set and refined, while wall-mounted tablets keep frontline staff updated.
Riley now plans to extend the cloud-based system to automated time tracking, stock management, user-based accountability and front-of-house compliance.
•Consider what needs monitoring to protect stock and assets (temperature, humidity, equipment performance, access) and how this will integrate into your overall operations to improve productivity and compliance.
•Do you need static and/or mobile monitoring applications? Hot and cold? Air and liquid? Seek an offline capability so that data can be logged even when networks are down.
•Do you need custom solutions (designed in or retrofitted)? Develop configurable parameters for responding to alerts.
•Seek solutions that allow access and monitoring from any location, eliminating the need for site visits or local servers.
•Ensure records are instantly available and organised for audit and review, and use consultancy support to back monitoring with best practices.
How to do a deeper probe
•Monitor food temperatures at every stage of the storage, cooking and hot-service process using calibrated probe thermometers. Return food if it is delivered at incorrect temperatures.
•Use different, colour-coded probe needles to monitor different foods - such as raw, ready-to-eat, infrared and halal - to avoid any risk of cross-contamination.
•You can reduce the temperature recording time to just four seconds by using smart snap-on, snap-off probes.
•Load kitchen checklists onto the probe and upload to the database so checks can be done by any member of the team.
Source: Navitas Group
Suppliers CESA www.cesa.org.uk
Comark Instruments www.comarkinstruments.net
Navitas Group www.navitas.eu.com
TM Electronics www.tmethermometers.com